Thanks to the vision of Evanston Cradle to Career's Kimberly Holmes-Ross and the guidance of Pastor Monte' L. G. Dillard, Sr., senior pastor at Evanston's First Church of God Christian Life Center, there's a cadre of new leaders in town.
But these aren't your usual dignitaries. This is a group of "regular" people--they call themselves Advocates for Action (A4A)--who have spent the past four months learning how to use their voices to create change and push for equity in Evanston, to take on issues that have been plaguing the community for decades.
Last Wednesday evening, a large and enthusiastic crowd jammed the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center to celebrate these newly minted leaders with words, wine, and even wings: the ceremony ended with the release of butterflies to symbolize hope in Evanston.
"We will stand against social injustices, we will fight to bridge the education gap, we will help to find the resources to have affordable housing in Evanston in every ward, we will stand up for the rights of our children in school and everywhere they go," Marquise Weatherspoon, one of the group of advocates, told the audience. "We will be Advocates for Action."
Kimberly Holmes-Ross, who is the daughter of former 5th ward alderman Hon. Delores Holmes and was born and raised in Evanston, is the Director of Community Engagement at EC2C. The group, she said, will be the ear to the ground, "the rubber to the road."
"Regular folks are very important in making the wheels of justice turn," she said.
Pastor Dillard spent four months training the group using techniques from the annual "HELPS" conference he offers at his church, which focuses on training lay people to lead.
"Being a leader, we are often celebrated and focused on," said Dillard, "But I know, as a leader, things do not get done without the people who so graciously and trustingly follow me. As I cast vision, it doesn't happen unless the people who follow me carry it."
His approach, he explained, is to share this with people: "That you with your 'regular' self have a voice and that you can do something that can really change the trajectory of your family and the many families in our community."
Sheila Merry, executive director, EC2C said, "The reality is it has to be about the community and it has to be driven by the community.”
EC2C, a collaborative partnership of more than 40 Evanston organizations and 150 community members, aims to be a catalyst for change by addressing systems that affect and undermine children and families in Evanston.
"So pulling this group together, we hope they'll be key leaders in helping drive the work of Cradle to Career so that we can make sure the work we're doing is consistent with the needs of the community."
Glenn Mackey, an Evanston activist and new Advocate for Action said, "This is the right vehicle to let people know that they do have a voice, they do count, they do matter, and that yes, we do have your back, we do understand, and we will speak up and stand with you if not stand for you."